Tag Archives: fiction

Dream Convention

(Sounds like a prog rock band, sorry)

 Imagine you are an omnipotent convention organiser. You can do and have anything you like. What does your dream con look like? Mine would be like this.

Friday show up for meet and greet. We have a proper pub to meet in (think Warhammer World without the rest of the building), and it’s full of all my gaming acquaintances from the last thirty years. Crucially, there’s no idiots there to spoil my fun. Which means no funny hats or travel stained Red Dwarf t-shirts. There’s some great (free) food and plenty of proper drinks too. That night is all about catching up and settling old internet arguments. I have loads of famous game designers come up to me and shake my hand for running such awesome games over the years (it’s my dream right?). I retire about 3am to my exclusive chambers.

On awaking, hangover free and completely refreshed) I head for a massive fry up that magically contains no calories. Everyone is smiling and getting ready for a days gaming. There’s no sign ups or scrums, you always get whatever game you like.

Today I will be playing AD&D, and the DM will be Mike Mearls. He’s taking us through the Slaver’s series, and we will go all the way through it in one glorious session. I play a thief, and I’m awesome. The other players are awesome too, bringing flavour and passion as well as humility to the game. We roar with laughter at times, and we are frightened to our very foundations too. The game ends with our victory over evil and a standing ovation for Mike, who then offers to get the first round in.

That evening I catch up with my mates and we swap stories of our days endeavours. We jostle to get our stories out first as every single one is a golden tale of gaming goodness. Then it’s a pub quiz. There may be a drink or two involved. My team win, and the prize is an all expenses paid trip to GenCon.

Sunday. No one goes home early, as there’s more gamage to play. Today is D&D 4e for me, and it’s being run by Chris Perkins. It’s being filmed by the BBC for a new 13 part series of “Only Cool People Roleplay”. We’re at mid heroic tier, and Chris has loads of surprises in store for us. The other guys round the table are great: we have the Penny Arcade crew, Stephen Fry and Derren Brown.

Everyone knows the game well, but it never descends into pure rules speak. I play a rogue, and I’m awesome. We all swap e-mail addresses at the end, promising to stay in touch.

That night I’m running a game. My prep is all done and I’m super confident. The character sheets and handouts are works of art. I’m running Earthdawn and all the players come from the day’s previous games. We have the best time playing out the Theran invasion of Barsaive. At the end we all shake hands and have man hugs.

My mates filter back from their games and we swap war stories all over again. Drinks are consumed around a huge banquet table. The wrap up speech is short and well received. A vote is taken and it is unanimously decided that we will not go home in the morning, we’ll carry on playing forever.

It could happen right?

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The Ultimate Tavern

“You all meet in a tavern…”

The original unoriginal beginning to adventure. But what if you did all meet in a tavern, and what if that tavern was the most fantastic place in the world? What would that look like?

 

My plan is to make the ultimate tavern for fantasy worlds. It will be the place to meet patrons, swap stories, hear tall tales, cement reputations, make legends, get roaring drunk and have one of those lovely little bowls of spiced nuts they do. 

I need your help and inspiration. I have the physical place all mapped out, and I have some plots, history, schemes and organisations all ready to go. I want to populate this place with (ir)regulars of all stripes, and that’s where I could do with a hand.

 

So tell me about your character.

 It can be any fantasy character. It might be the one from your gaming history, or one you play today, or one you’ve always wanted to. System is irrelevant (I don’t want numbers). I only ask that you use the following template if you can (and if you can’t, I’ll get over it).

 

  • Occupation: what’s your way of life?
  • Physical description: just briefly, including any quirks
  • Attributes and skills: anything markedly above or below the norm
  • Values and motivations: what spurs you to action?
  • Behaviour: traits that stand out
  • Useful knowledge: perhaps a hook?
  • Mannerism: something memorable 

As they come in, don’t be afraid of putting in links to other characters. Enmities and alliances are all grist to the mill.

 

My long term plan is to gather this cast into a game resource. Eventually I’ll publish it. Contributors will be credited of course, and if there is anything physical to come from this I’ll get you a copy gratis. That’s all I can offer. I know it’s not much.  

Over to you.

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A novel idea for a setting

I found myself in the public library today, which is a rare occasion. I was scanning the fantasy/sci fi/horror section, surprised at how much stuff they had, and wondering why on earth I spend what I do in bookstores. I checked a few back covers for a precis that sounded interesting. While doing that I came round to thinking about how my reading tends to be mosty gaming related, and that includes the novels I pick up. It struck me then that I’d been slowly coming to a decision over recent months and it goes a little something like this.

I’ve got loads of RPGs, about 5 or 6 times as many as you can see in the banner for this site. The vast majority of them have a setting as part of the game. Consequently, I’ve internalised an awful lot of imaginary worlds. Add to that the weird predilection I have for trying to see everything in the real world as potential gaming fodder and you might begin to see how full my head is. Novels and comics are an obvious source of gaming maaterial, but as time has gone on I’ve realised I’m never ever going to sit down and write a setting bible based on a novel, I’m just not. It’s way to much work and frankly, if my players aren’t as invested in the setting as I am then it’s never going to see time at the table. Let’s not even think about publishing it, not going to happen. Last time I tried to do this was with the Night’s Dawn trilogy by Peter F Hamilton, my favourite author. It’s absolutley ripe for gaming and I sincerely hope someone will do it one day. But it’s more than 3000 pages long and the cast of characters, locations, kit etc is absolutley enormous. Even the really hard core wiki builders struggle with that challenge.

So I don’t do it. I don’t even really build my own settings out of whole cloth, nor do I really pay a huge amount of attention to game worlds so much any more. The reason being, there’s just too much stuff, often of little relevance and too little of it ever reaches the ears of my players. Where’s the utility in a 300+ page book where 297 pages are just dry historical detail?

Let me give you an example. I recently bought Eclipse Phase after reading some reports and reviews online. It’s fans are vocal and passionate to say the least. Just browse RPGnet, you’ll see what I mean. When a poster said I could do Night’s Dawn with it I was totally sold. However, after an hour reading it from the first page I started to flick, never a good sign. ten minutes after that, I’d shelved it. The reason was I felt I would be better off reading a novel as I’d get the same giant infodump but in a more entertaining medium. Believe me when I say this isn’t a dig at the game, I’m sure it’s as brilliant and innovative as people say, but it’s not for me with the way I want to approach gaming these days. The short fiction at the start seemed like something from Shadowrun circa 1994, while the rest of the book was a patchwork of the authors favourite transhumanist scifi of recent years. again, it’s a perfeectly valid approach to a game book, but actually I found myself wishing I’d read the source material instead.

So I noticed a section of books by Charles Stross in the library, and his works are mentioned in Eclipse Phase. My interest piqued, I checked out the splash page. turns out the one I’d picked up is his first published work called The Atrocity Archives and I don’t think it’s one of the transhuman books. Here’s the back page for you:

Bob Howard is a low-level techie working for a super-secret government agency. While his colleagues are out saving the world, Bob’s under a desk restoring lost data. None of them receive any thanks for the jobs they do, but at least a techie doesn’t risk getting shot or eaten in the line of duty. Bob’s world is dull but safe, and that’s the way it should have stayed; but then he went and got Noticed. Now, Bob Howard is up to his neck in spycraft, alternative universes, dimension-hopping nazis, Middle Eastern terrorists, damsels in distress, ancient Lovecraftian horror and the end of the world. Only one thing is certain: it will take more than control-alt-delete to sort this mess out…

There’s enough there for a whole campaign no? And the preface makes it even more succint. In it Ken MacLeod points out:

Think, for a moment, what the following phrase would call to mind if you’d never heard it before: ‘Secret intelligence’

And there’s about 20 of the games on my shelf summed up. Except those books then give me another 13 chapters of explanation and detail which is mostly unnecessary and has the effect of dulling and diluting the original concept. Bringing it back to RPGs proper, the worst offender for me was The Iron Kingdoms, a superb setting from Privateer Press originally for d20 gaming. It started with a trilogy of adventures which gave the DM just enough to go on, and  crucially it all came out at the table as the party progressed. Three modules later and everyone knew as much as everyone else at the table without having to study for hours and without losing any immersion either. I think it was better than most settings just because of that ‘reveal during play’ approach. Obviously the fans wanted more and the publishers got to work. The first book was Lock and Load, really just a conversion supplement for standard D&D. It came with maps and geography and history, all in 64 pages. Brilliant. And then a long, long wait while the big hardback sourcebooks were produced, weighing in at 600 pages over 2 hardbacks, all as dry as dust. They’d utterly explained away all the magic. A crushing disappointment, especially when you consider their minis game in the same world, Warmachine, had exactly the same job to do, yet managed it in colour with barely a third of the page count. 

Now, this post haas gotten way too long and is in some danger of becoming a rant. So part 2 tomorrow…

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When skill challenges fail

Sample dialogue from my weekly game:

Sebastian: I notice you’ve got a lot of blue gems.
Dragon: Yes, do you have anything blue?
Raelthos: We’ve got some Jade.
Kallista: Idiot, they’re green.
Sebastian: Nah. We’ve got f@ck-all blue stuff.
Dragon: ROAR. NOW YOU DIE!

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Eberron Field Report

Here’s how Dan’s character saw our Eberron One shot last week. Awesome work as always!

Subject: Field Report: Kiera d’Lyrander

Spellshard #11563
Field Report: Kiera d’Lyrander
Confidential: Clearance Level 7 – Eyes of Aundir
#NOTES# added by The Eyes of Aundair.

15th Barrakas 1009YK I was on shore leave from ‘Arawai’s Honour’ and had been breakfasting with veterans at the #LOCATION CONFIDENTIAL# in Sharn . A messenger delivered a note to our table, it was signed V of the Dark Lanterns to meet him an unassuming location – The North-East stairs of the Myriad Tower. The letter also included four Platinum pieces, one of each kingdom except Breland. We went to the location and quickly identified the guard disguised as a beggar and gained access to the tower by handing over the coins. Inside we met with V and passed his ‘Interview’ by battling an Owlbear in a garden at the top of the tower. Upon completing the ‘Interview we were then commissioned by Brelish intelligence to track down a rogue agent Luccan Stellios and a sword he had stolen called the Soul Blade. #LOCATION SEARCHED – NO INDICATION OF V#

Provisioned with Magebred horses we pursued the rogue agent and caught up with his carriage approximately 10 leagues from Trollenport, Zilargo. At that point we hailed the rapidly moving coach which refused to stop so we boarded her, disabled the driver and proceded to apprehend Luccan, who was wielding a dagger with a ruby pommel. It was at this point that we discovered that Luccan was in fact a vampire. I heartened my allies with a prayer to Arawai and we pressed the attack however when Lo Kag #Lo-Kag VETERAN SLAVE CHAMPION# removed the roof of the carriage, Lucan turned to mist and escaped. We searched the area but could not find either Luccan or his red haired driver. We found Luccan’s coffin aboard the carriage, destroyed it and consecrated the earth knowing that he would not be able to recuperate without it for a few days. #ABANDONNED CARRIAGE LOCATED – APPEARS TO CORROBORATE REPORT#

We continued on to Trollenport and ascertained that Luccan planned to attend one of the dozen or so masked balls held each year, this one hosted by House Aundair, and that the red-haired woman was his sister Grilsha Stellos. We infiltrated the masquerade and using gnomish glamours to disguise our weapons and armour, discovered that he was there to contact #NAME WITHHELD#. I discovered Luccan after dancing with him, as he turned away I recognised his long, white hair. As Luccan and his sister went to leave the ball we moved to stop him, this time he was wielding a greatsword with a ruby pommel. With the aid of the Eyes of Aundair we apprehended Grilsha. Luccan escaped once again but was severely wounded. Grilsha appeared to be unaware of her brothers involvement with the Dark Lanterns or his Vampirism. #GRILSHA STELLOS IS CURRENTLY HELPING THE NATION OF AUNDAIR WITH THEIR ENQUIRIES#

#NAME WITHHELD# told us she had arranged passage to Karnath for Luccan on an Airship and we proceded to the docking spire. Upon our arrival we were confronted with a horde of zombies, dressed in Aundair Livery! After smiting the foul undead we boarded the airship. All hands had been put into an unnatural sleep, we awoke the captain and made a cursory search of the ship but there was no sign of Luccan. We had regathered on the deck when agents of the Emerald Claw rammed the airship and we moved quickly and decisively to repel them – boarding their skiff and attempting to apprehend their leader who was accidentally decapitated as he attempted to feather-fall to safety.

Following this latest ambush the Captain suggested that maybe Luccan had stowed his coffin in the Locker of Holding below-decks. We duly retrieved the coffin and opened it on deck. Luccan was at repose within the coffin and lauched out to attack us. A brief battle ensued on deck and we subdued him, at which point the body of Luccan Stellos crumbled away to dust.

#The Soul blade has been requisitioned by The Eyes of Aundair and is currently being researched. Kiera d’Lyrander and her associates were rewarded by Audair and Kiera has returned to her unit. She shows discretion and valour and may be a useful asset to Aundair and House Lyrander. Breland are still searching for The Soul Blade but have been diverted for the time being#

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Pyramid of Shadows AP

This in from Danurai, who plays Raelthos Moonchild III in our weekly game:

The final demise of the Arboreans was short and bloody. We found an illusory room resembling the sprawling countryside of what I can only assume to be their homeland. It was late spring, and the the early morning sunshine was warm on my face as Callista and I strolled throught the grass, soaking our boots through with fresh morning Dew. We were drawn to a low stone in the middle of a clearing, surrounded by grey stone pillars and a handful of trees, upon the stone were a sequence of glowing red symbols and we took it to be a gravestone of some sort.
Suddenly we heard a warning cry from Flynn on the right and Illvelios on the left as an ettercap launched itself at me from a nearby tree, I stepped through the fey to evade it but felt a spasm of pain as it struck me with a solid blow across the back. From a few feet back the final desparate attack upon us unfolded. Flynn had ambushed an ettercap trying to sneak up on us from our right flank, it’s many legs flailing as it desparately attempted to fend off the rogues swift, precise sword strikes. The scene disappeared in a gout of flame from Callista and I heard the the thing scream briefly in pain then crackling as it’s chitinous hide burned.

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Previously in Pyramid of Shadows…

This just in from Steve, who plays Sebastian in our weekly game. A conversation overheard from Vyrellis:

The wizard was becoming more and more interesting, especially now that Illvelios has been taken by this strange affliction. Perhaps I could persuade him to part with me for a small amount of time so that I can get a real idea of the human’s power…..

     The fight in the bizarre oasis of the arboreans was very enlightening. The way she dealt with the Hag was very much to my liking, I wonder……

     Having convinced Illvelios to part with me I now have the wizard in my grasp, with not much convincing she made light work of the annoying satyr and its minions. I am satisfied with her power, though not so much as to aid her any more. She is, after all, only human.

     Not long after this battle I was impressed once more. The arborean priestess, who at first seemed formidable was made light work of and her bodyguard tree-thing was swiftly dispatched by a basic spell. Hmmmm, she continues to impress……

     They think I do not watch at all times, though my scrying can penetrate more than the thin leather strappings that she wears. I observed the demise of the fast moving creatures with much pleasure. 

     As they rest I sense in her a great power, it is building up inside and it may not be long before she can impress me with new spells learned from her experiences, one more confrontation, perhaps two. I cannot wait……..

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Appendix O

So, back in the original AD&D DMG, Gary Gygax included a list of inspirations in Appendix N.

From such sources, as well as just about any other imaginative writing or screenplay, you will be able to pluck kernels from which to grow the fruits of exciting campaigns. Good reading!

–Gary Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide, Appendix N

You can see the full list right here. If you’re interested in my personal Appendix N, well I have a page for that just up and to your right.

The question is, what would a 4e version include? I suspect there would be less books and more movies and video games. We have 30 years of new material to draw on so who makes the cut? and what gets dropped?

Anything based on D&D itself doesn’t count. Hit me.

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How my players get their RP in

I don’t often trouble the readers of this ‘blog with play details from my weekly game, but I thought this merited inclusion.

Like many groups we tend to concentrate on the combats at the table. Sometimes I have  a nagging concern that the story suffers as a result. However, in the days between sessions, my group e-mails each other with actual play reports. This latest from Steve shows how the RP is still there, in people’s heads, which is where it really counts after all.

  • Excerpt from “My life with Moonchild” – Sebastian Sigismund
     
         “…our time in the Pyramid of Shadows had been arduous at best. Vicious fights with Humans and Abhumans alike had taken their toll on both our bodies and minds. Seeds of mistrust were being planted from both Vyrellis and the Pyramid itself.
         “Ilvellios was becoming more involved with the woman in the crystal ball; Flynn had been tricked by a Succubus into planting his blade into Raelthos’s back; Raelthos himself is becoming more mysterious with his new psychic attacks; and Callista seems to be letting her hightened powers go to her head.
         “Our recent fights had given us more to worry about however. Ilvellios, Flynn and I had been injured in a vicious struggle with a creature neither man nor beast and elements of its affliction had begun to surface in us.
         “After banishing the Succubus and her Demons we continued south and came across an interesting device. A set of levers protruded from a wall, flanked by two mirrors. Neither of these mirrors showed a reflection, but later were realised to be some form of scrying devices. We had in fact found another group of  Garash’s bandits. A hard fight ensued but we were victorious, the only casualty was Callistas ego as she found a new meaning of the phrase ‘Burning Hands’. At this point we decided to rest up.
         “Cries of agony woke me in the night, finding Raelthos and Callista tending to Ilvellios. It was then i realised i was drenched in sweat, as it appeared so was Flynn. Burning from some unknown fever i fell back to sleep. Of the three of us who suffered, Flynn seemed to have come off best. I was still a little feverish but generally ok. Ilvellios did not look good, his eyes had lost their glow and were beginning to turn a little jaundice. His hair looked scraggy and he would not accept any food, claiming that only meat would sate him…..”
         “Our next move will be to go west once more, where Flynn had scouted ahead and informed us that we would return to the Ettins chamber. The Ettin still lay there, burned, bruised and still very dead. Regardless, we still trod carefully in fear of disturbing corpses that resided below. Moving north we were halted by words of warning from Vyrellis. It seemed we were approaching ‘The Library.’ What this entailed we would not have guessed or imagined……….”

 
     The rest of this page is soaked in blood, if there had been anything written there it is now unreadable. 

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Sleepless in Spellgard

This in from Danurai:

Fáelán squinted up at the weak winter sun, then spat on the dry ruins of Spellgard.
“They passed by here not three days hence.”
He waggled his fingers in the air and muttered under his breath, like he was petting a dog. Big bloody dog if he was, his companion thought.

The two had been travelling together for a couple of weeks now, tracking the small group that the woman had described. They’d found the cave where her daughter had been held, empty now except for the rotting corpses of it’s previous foul denizens, and picked up the wagon trail to Spellgard and the ruins of the north wall where they now stood.

“We doin’ this or what?” Rumbled the big man. With a voice like gravel and skin like rock he was the physical embodiment of the land he was sworn to protect.
“Aye,” replied the Fáelán, “there’s unnatural doings down there. C’mon Lupa.”
The warden ducked as he followed the wild elf through the broken doorway, and shrugged to himself, why did he keep calling him ‘Lupa’?

The corpses here were much fresher, a few days old at most, and the trail of destruction was easy to follow. Fáelán grinned to himself, from the tracks he was sure they had a Drow with them, no-one else had mentioned a renegade. They’d waded through the underground stream and clambered through the tombs,the dank, dark tunnels reeked of death and decay. The wild elf quickly raised his hand to call a halt, faint strains of a familiar tune echoed through the darkness, amplified by the spirits for Fáelán alone, the screams and shouts of battle joined.

“Lupus, garbh!” the shaman whispered. With a sudden feral roar like a crack of thunder, a ghostly wolf leapt ahead of them. Spear held low Fáelán sprinted after his spirit guide.

“So that’s Lupus” the goliath mused as he unsheathed his full sword and rumbled after them.

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